INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
How Scott Spencer and the Well Home Loans Team Rediscovered the Importance of the Personal Touch in Providing Online Mortgages
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Scott Spencer: We have been extremely fortunate that we’ve managed to stay healthy, and we’re going well now. Being in Victoria, Australia, we’ve endured one of the hardest stay home orders we could have ever imagined – 15 weeks of lockdown! That bought a whole host of challenges to overcome, especially from a mental health perspective, and taught us to focus on the positives. I’ve always preferred being in an office with my staff; transitioning to work from home and homeschooling was tough, though being able to spend more time with my wife and children has been a rewarding experience and not one that I thought would happen in 2020.
Seeing how COVID-19 has impacted so many people across the world has made me feel very lucky that those closest to me are safe and healthy. It’s given me a new appreciation of the little things.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Well Home Loans.
Scott Spencer: I started Well Home Loans back in 2016 after more than 20 years in both lending and technology businesses. Most new online lenders were all focusing on cool new technologies built by IT people, but no one really focused on the customer service side of providing online home loans.
Our family was one of the early pioneers of the non-bank lending industry in Australia going back to the ’70s, and we always focused on the customer first. After exiting the lending business, we built some of the first automated decisioning engines and mortgage broker software in the country, empowering lenders and brokers to process trillions of dollars of mortgages over more than a decade. After being acquired by a public company, we exited the technology business and had time to focus on the next adventure.
The time was right to take our love of lending, combine it with some of the innovative technologies we’d pioneered in lending, and create a unique fintech lender that focuses on the best of both worlds. This hybrid approach is what really sets us apart, and customers love it.
How does Well Home Loans innovate?
Scott Spencer: As a fintech lender, we always keep up with modern technology and new ways of doing things. We’re pretty open internally, and all staff are encouraged to think about and let us know ideas they might have around efficiency improvements across the business. Trying new things is always something that we like to do, and we keep a mindset of “the more ideas we have, the more likely we are to find a good one.”
We always like to innovate in our regression of ideas and make sure that things that worked in the past couldn’t be used to delight in a new way. An example of our hybrid model innovation was the use of a telephone, not that innovative, but a rarely used tool in the online fintech world. Rather than building some new fintech way of notifying customers about their home loan, we simply pick up the phone and speak with them. Most customers are completely surprised that an online-only lender would take the time to speak with them.
It turns out they didn’t want a faster home loan or shiny app notifications – they just wanted to make sure their dream home could be secured. We learnt very quickly to never assume that a technology solution can trump an old fashioned one. We like to say it’s as personal as online gets.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Scott Spencer: Like many businesses, we were affected by COVID-19 and not all in a good way. I’ll always remember the first challenge of our transition to working from home, and we had to close our office within 24 hours. While we had been preparing for it and were mostly ready, we certainly weren’t ready for the speed of it. One day we were at work, by lunchtime, our Government was telling everyone to go home and stay home. This was in March 2020, so we’ve had plenty of time to adjust, and we’ve found a new way of working that’s got plenty of positives to it.
However, many of our customers have been hit hard. It’s never nice to hear from a customer who has lost their job and now has to sell their family home.
The lending landscape changed a lot, with new policies such as ensuring people who wanted a home loan were even going to have a job soon. Millions of Australians in limbo while the Government introduced measures to try to keep people in jobs with business subsidies. Our Reserve Bank (the RBA) stepped in with a lot of measures to try to minimize the impact on the financial system, which was great, and navigating these changes while looking after customers from home led to interesting times this year.
After 15 weeks of lockdown, we’re coping pretty well.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Scott Spencer: The pandemic has forced us to make some difficult choices, and some of those choices were forced on us by the restrictions put in place by our State. Moving to work from home and looking after our team’s safety was not a difficult choice at all, and seeing how they’ve pulled together was amazing. In the past, I used to be a “you must be in the office” kind of person, but the team showed me that it’s not the only way – One lesson that I’ve certainly learnt is that just because you did something one way, doesn’t mean that another way won’t work.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Scott Spencer: Stress and anxiety will always go hand in hand with being an entrepreneur. What I find works for me is making sure that I have “me time.” A good friend of mine called this the third place. Work was one place; home was a second-place, and you had to find the third place that was just yours. It doesn’t have to be much, something as simple as reading a book for a half-hour or taking the dog for a walk by yourself, but it helps to recharge and reminds me to focus on what’s important to me.
And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Scott Spencer: Staying in the game is a huge part of being in the business of lending. In Australia, we have 30-year mortgages, and that’s what we plan for with our customers. Technology moves at such a rapid pace, so ensuring we are always innovating and staying agile is important. Tech innovation is just half the plan. The most important part is always looking at what our customers want and never losing sight of what’s important to them – their home.
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